Americans are on a roll in the kitchen -- we've never been better or smarter about cooking. But how does a beginning cook become good, a good cook great?
Modeled on Strunk and White's The Elements of Style, The Elements of Cooking is an opinionated volume by Michael Ruhlman -- the award-winning and bestselling author of The Making of a Chef and coauthor of The French Laundry Cookbook -- that pares the essentials of good cooking into a slim, easy-to-take-anywhere book. It will also stand alongside a handful of classics of the kitchen, just as Strunk and White's book sits on the desk of every writer and every English student.
Not only does this book deconstruct the essential knowledge of the kitchen, it also takes what every professional chef knows instinctively after years of training and experience and offers it up cleanly and brilliantly to the home cook.
With hundreds of entries from acid to zester, here is all the information -- no more and no less -- you need to cook, as well as countless tips (including only one recipe in the entire book, for the "magic elixir of the kitchen") and no-nonsense advice on how to be a great cook. You'll learn to cook everything, as the entries cover all the key moves you need to make in the kitchen and teach you, for example, not only what goes into a great sauce but how to think about it to make it great.
Eight short, beautifully written essays outline what it takes not merely to cook but to cook well: understanding heat, using the right tools (there are only five of them), cooking with eggs, making stock, making sauce, salting food, what a cook should read, and exploring the elusive, most important skill to have in the kitchen, finesse.
Ruhlman's slim 12th book, inspired by Strunk and White's classic The Elements of Style, would more accurately have been titled Selected Elements of French Cooking. Organized in dictionary format, the book offers short definitions of culinary terms most likely to be encountered in a Continental restaurant kitchen: la ficelle, jus li , lardo, mise en place, oblique cut, oignon piqu , rondeau, roulade. Entries for ladle, rolling pin and other common implements seem almost superfluous, while international items such as wok, tandoor, udon and cardamom are nowhere to be found (though to be fair, nam pla, kimchi and umami are included). An opening eight-page section announces, with finger wagging, that veal stock is the essential and discourses on eggs, salt and kitchen tools. Ruhlman (The Soul of a Chef) is an elegant writer and the entries he does include can be useful and sometimes entertaining. The real problem is the idiosyncratic, highly personal approach: you just don't know what you'll find in this book and what you won't.